The Nevica Project

Robert Motherwell

Robert Motherwell (January 24, 1915 – July 16, 1991) American Abstract Expressionist painter, active also as editor, writer and teacher. Born in Aberdeen, Washington and studied painting briefly at California School of Fine Arts, San Francisco, in 1932, then took a degree in philosophy at Stanford University 1932-6.  After philosophy studies at other universities, moved in 1940 to New York to study art history at Columbia University. He turned increasingly to painting, became friendly with Matta and the other Surrealists then living in New York, and decided in 1941 to become a professional painter. Motherwell met Baziotes and Pollock and experimented with them in the use of automatism and other Surrealist techniques. He became director in 1944 of the series The Documents of Modern Art published by Wittenborn and Schultz, devoted to the writings of leading 20th century artists and critics. 

His first solo exhibition was a at Peggy Guggenheim's gallery Art of This Century, New York, 1944. He then collaborated with Baziotes, Hare, Rothko and later Newman in running the art school The Subjects of the Artist 1948-9, and had been widely active as a teacher and lecturer. He painted many large pictures, including extensive series known as 'Elegy to the Spanish Republic' and 'Open', and had also made a number of collages

Living in Greenwich Village, he became part of an exciting group of young artists. Forming a community and living on what little they had, the Abstract Expressionists made daring experiments in painting and in the intellectual investigations surrounding it. Their break with the traditional art conventions often provoked the harshest criticism from the establishment. Despite this, these early years were an incredibly productive period for Motherwell—seeing him experiment in a range of media, from painting to collage. His work often expressed the actions of the artist through dramatic and bright brush strokes. Valued for their energetic imagery, they attempted a pure emotional response made real in paint. His collage also concerned itself with an awareness of the presence of the artist in a work. Using torn paper on minimalist backgrounds, he created work that was at once discordant and lyrical.

Beyond his individual efforts as an artist, Motherwell played a major role in the intellectual and artistic development of the underground New York art world of the time.

On July 16, 1991, at the age of 76 he died: the last of the great Abstract Expressionists. From the 1949 painting, AT FIVE IN THE AFTERNOON, until the end of his life, Motherwell continued his search for a personal and political voice in abstraction. This search produced a body of work that remains a testament to the human soul and its persistence, and to the genre of abstract painting out of which it came.

His artworks are in numerous private collections throughout the world and such museums as Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Israel; Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, Japan; Museu d´Art Contemporani de Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain; Kunstmuseum Basel, Basel, Switzerland; Tate Britain, London, England; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY; Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; and the  San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA.